Obesity: Who’s fault is it anyway?

photo by Flickr user mor10am
via Creative Commons

I hate talking about “fault” when it comes to obesity. Regardless of your journey, you are where you are. If you are truly willing to put in the work, you can lose weight. Even if your parents gave you Twinkies at every meal.

Recent research shows that overweight children have a greater likelihood of becoming overweight adults. Okay, that’s interesting (though it also seems fairly obvious). But does that mean that we shouldn’t encourage obese adults to lose weight? Hey, it’s not their fault so what can you do, right?

I don’t think so.

An article I read recently essentially made this claim. It appears they’re arguing against higher health insurance premiums for obese adults who were fat as children, but are perhaps okay with it for people who didn’t get fat until adulthood…

Sure, many fat adults became fat as adults, but the portion that started out fat as children is significant enough that charging higher premiums would unfairly ding them. Yes, I know the rejoinder to this: Fat people should just lose weight! But the scientific evidence basically makes that solution impossible. Most fat adults have been highly motivated for most of their lives to lose weight, and yet they can’t do it.

It goes on to cite the much-debated “set point theory” (and get it wrong to boot) and claim:

If you lose weight, your body floods with hormones that make you hungry. Your metabolism is also set at the point it was at your heaviest, meaning a person who weighs 150 pounds who used to be fat has to eat significantly fewer calories to stay at 150 pounds than someone who has always weighed 150 pounds.For a fat person to become a thin person, they have to embrace a lifestyle of constant starvation. Feeding a feeling of starvation is one of the strongest urges people have; faulting someone for eating when they feel they’re starving is akin to faulting someone for wetting themselves if they’ve been denied a bathroom for 12 hours.

This really gets to me. Why do we see so many articles telling people that they shouldn’t bother trying to lose weight? This one is basically saying “it’s hard and you’ll be hungry, so you might as well not even try.”

Now let’s talk about this “lifestyle of constant  starvation.” There’s a pretty wide divide between the hunger you feel when you haven’t eaten in four hours (or even six or ten hours) and the feeling of starvation. Most people who are trying to lose weight won’t ever know what starvation feels like. If they do, they’re doing it wrong and should seek medical help.

After weight loss, a person adapts to their new weight and dietary needs. There’s no lifestyle of starvation. Are there a few weeks of  occasional (maybe even constant) hunger in the beginning as the person gets used to eating an appropriate number of calories? Sure. Not starvation, but hunger.

But you know what? Feeling hungry isn’t the end of the world! It’s not an emergency and it’s actually GOOD to learn how to cope with hunger – how to make smart food choices even when you’re “starving” and how to recognize the difference between hunger, boredom, thirst, and other emotions that trigger eating. It’s healthy and even necessary to realize that you’re not going to die just because you’re eating less food than you used to and that every hunger pang doesn’t have to be answered.

Finally, the assertion that losing weight is impossible is just ridiculous. Personally and professionally, I know that it IS possible. It’s silly to even have to refute this moronic claim. Yes, it’s hard sometimes and uncomfortable sometimes, and to maintain weight loss you will probably have to make long-term lifestyle changes (that don’t involve starvation!).  But if you do it slowly and responsibly, it’s both doable and sustainable.

But wait. Saying that puts the burden on the individual. To which the masses respond: “You mean I have to commit to change and work at it? Feh. I’d rather just blame my parents and eat another Big Mac.”

The gist of the article was actually that we need to change the circumstances that make people fat, and I totally agree. But putting the blame on parents for adult obesity is placing the problem in the past tense, which isn’t going to help the millions of overweight and obese adults today. And calling weight loss ‘scientifically impossible’ certainly isn’t going to encourage anyone to try.


5 thoughts on “Obesity: Who’s fault is it anyway?

  1. I’d rather just blame my parents and eat another Big Mac.” 😦

    And if it isn’t your parents, it’s the environment, fast food companies, junk food makers, the government, etc…

    While it’s no picnic for chronically obese people to successfully lose weight, it is possible. Focusing on “starving themselves” is the first mistake. It’s not just how much you eat…what you eat, when you eat play a HUGE part in the weight loss equation

  2. Starving themselves could actually lead to gaining more weight since the body will store almost all the food in the body because its not getting enough.

    Same thing goes with people who don’t drink enough water, their water retention levels increase as a result.

    • True, but it takes quite a bit longer than most people think for an obese person to get into “starvation mode.” Most people experience hunger and say “I’m starving.” That’s more of a problem than actual starvation mode.

  3. This is such an interesting article. It’s true that most of us are willing to blame everything else, but ourselves, for the current status of our health and weight. Articles like the one you read just feed that thought pattern. Nobody wants to hear that it takes work to lose the weight. After all, it was so easy to put the weight on… lol

    Thanks for the link to set point theory. First time I had heard of it. Nice to know the “why” behind plateaus.

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